Turf Wars



  • play pool with a man named after an American city (eg. Cincinnati Joe, The New Orleans Kid)
  • fight a European war on two fronts (eg. Hitler, Napoleon)
  • try to argue somebody into Systems Thinking (eg. Me)

That last one’s a cliche. (the first rule of systems thinking is…) that I’ve always always ignored. But now I know why I shouldn’t! Arguing your way to truth is their way. Logically trying to establish what work is like outside the room without going and looking is the wrong thing to do . How do you Get Knowledge? You go and Get Knowledge. Measure the true end to end time it takes to do something, listen to the actual words customers say. Find out what’s happening and why.

People don’t get knowledge of how things are by being persuaded by somebodies rhetoric or charm or force of personality. You know that. You probably learnt from studying the work and seeing how things were. So why would it be different with anybody else? It shouldn’t.
People argue from, within, constrained by, on top of and informed by their mental models. They rarely argue about them as most of the time they don’t know they have them.

One of the handy things about going systems thinking is you learn two new mental models of work. You learn about the old one you didn’t know you had, and then you laboriously learn a new one.
That old one lay implicit underneath the surface, shaping all your actions without ever making itself clearly visible. 20120906-182207.jpg Seeing mine surface when I learnt about systems thinking, or rather as I learn (present tense) is like watching a submerged wreck being lifted from the sea, timbers all skew whiff and covered in barnacles and seaweed. It’s an evolved mess, shaped by circumstance and other people’s hand-me-down assumptions. Very little design to be discerned, instead stuff cobbled together as they happened to fit with what was already there.

It’s very odd, in your excitement of learning more useful flexible mental models of work you almost don’t notice the old one staring balefully at you. If you’re not careful, and don’t take a good look at it and all it’s slimy horror, it might continue to lurk around like mould on a wall leaching poisonous invisible spores into your thinking.

Mine has been lurking around spoiling me with at least two things I’m aware of. Firstly, a weakness for being a bit of a toolhead. Second, a weakness for trying to argue or persuade people into systems thinking.

The first has manifested itself in the following ways:

  • thinking that a simple control chart will surely show all anyone needed to make them change their mind about targets
  • a fondness for using a hastily drawn Taguchi loss function instead of talking in English about what matters to the customer

The second has manifested itself by:

  • haranguing strangers on message boards and forums as to why they’re wrong
  • trying to persuade colleagues by argument and referenced anecdotal evidence

Doesn’t work for all sorts of reasons, but the most important thing to know about it is…it doesn’t work. See here for more and better on the why’s and wherefores.

Gandhi said

“Be the change you want to see in the world”


True enough, but if you can’t remember it, look what this gentleman has to say.

Arguing about systems thinking is like…

This entry was posted in change, psychology, systems thinking, thinking and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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